With the publication today of a major report by the Science and Technology Committee, there is an admission that antibiotics are routinely used on healthy animals, and a recommendation that the practice must stop.
The Select Committee has called for a ‘drastic reduction’ in the use of antibiotics in medicine but there is no equivalent recommendation for a similarly drastic reduction in farm use.
One of the main concerns of the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics is routine preventative use - when antibiotics are given to intensively farmed animals, sometimes even when no disease is present.
The Select Committee states: ‘In farming meanwhile, we suspect that antibiotics may be routinely used on healthy animals’, and recommends that 'the Government takes action to ensure the use of antibiotics in farm animals is strictly required for therapeutic use.'
The Select Committee also agreed with arguments put to it by the Alliance that simply banning growth promoters and allowing routine preventative use to continue had failed to reduce overall antibiotic use. Penicillin and tetracycline were banned as growth promoters after the Swann Report in 1969 , but the Committee said it was ‘worried that the total veterinary use of tetracyclines has increased nearly tenfold and that of penicillin type antibiotics has increased nearly fivefold since the Swann Report in 1969’.
Cóilín Nunan, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics says: “We are pleased the Select Committee have accepted many of our arguments, including that antibiotic use in the British pig and poultry industry is three to five times higher than it is in the five Nordic countries and that these countries have much lower antibiotic resistance in food-poisoning bacteria.”
The Committee realise that previous policies have failed to prevent inappropriate farm antibiotic use and want to see an end to routine preventative use on farms, a recommendation which the Alliance warmly welcomes.
Alison Craig, Campaign Manager of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics says: “We particularly welcome the sense of urgency in the Committee's report, in contrast with the Prime Minister's announcement last week of a review which is not expected to report for another two years.
“We are disappointed, however, that the Select Committee felt able to call for a ‘drastic reduction’ in the use of antibiotics in medicine, but there is no equivalent recommendation for a drastic reduction in agriculture. The Netherlands has reduced its farm antibiotic use by 56% in five years, and we should be aiming to emulate this kind of determined action.
“We hope the Chief Medical Officer, and all senior medical and health policy-makers will note this point and take action to right the imbalance. We want Ministers to set targets to reduce farm antibiotic use drastically, and urgently.”
Commenting, Peter Jones, BVA Past President said:"Antibiotics are vital medicines for both human and animal health and we are working hard to safeguard their use for the future, but it is clear that we must also find ways to develop new antibiotics in veterinary medicine.
"The development pipeline for new antibiotics in both human and animal health is at an all-time low and so we welcome measures to investigate how to manage this trend."
"One of the greatest challenges to both animal and human health is the threat of antibiotic resistance, which has the potential to become a global catastrophe.
"To ensure healthy animals in the future we must ensure we safeguard veterinary medicines. And so across the country we continue to take a lead in raising awareness about the need to use these vital medicines responsibly.
"But we mustn’t simply pay lip service to the problem. BVA asks all veterinary surgeons to look at themselves to make sure that they are each playing their part and doing the right things."